Cheater Hater's picture
By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Mar 21 2023 12:06pm

The Arena team continues to shake up how it does remastered sets. The main set is completely faithful to the original product, but instead we get yet another bonus sheet (something that is cool once in a while, but Wizards is going back to the well way too often with recently—it should be a once a year thing at most, not three sets in six months), this time of original Innistrad cards. More interestingly, in terms of Limited it’s actually four bonus sheets that rotate over the month the set will be playable (though they’ll all be in store boosters). It’s an interesting way to do a digital-only set, even if my cynical side says it’s a way to get people playing for the whole time the set is available (since cards like Snapcaster Mage and Griselbrand are in the final batch). The set itself has some interesting choices as well between inclusions, exclusions, and shifts, as we’ll get into with both the design review and the Limited review, which starts… now!




Delirium is one of the most interesting mechanics to build around in Limited, since it not only requires support to fill your graveyard (ideally self-mill, but discard and just playing cards work too), but smart drafting/deckbuilding to get an even balance of types, especially difficult ones like Enchantment and Artifact. It generally takes a while to get Delirium, but the effects are powerful if you can get there, and you definitely can if you’re building around it. It’s spread across all the colors (especially since Scourge Wolf was downshifted), though it’s focused in green, white, and black.



Madness is another interesting deckbuilding challenge, though it’s mostly a combo of enablers (discard outlets) and payoffs (good cards with Madness). It’s also exclusively in red and black now, since the remastered set doesn’t have any of the blue madness cards like Just the Wind (and most of the blue enablers are gone too for good measure). Ideally you should pick Madness cards that are reasonable even if you don’t cast them and discard outlets that are more than just ditching cards for little value, but that can be more difficult than it seems, as we’ll see.



This is a strange choice, since clues are technically evergreen now, though we haven’t really seen the fruits of that labor. Since there’s so much of it here it’s a good mana sink, assuming you can get it on cards that are reasonable otherwise like Thraben Inspector and Byway Courier. It’s primarily in green and blue, with a bit in white.



If you’re new to Magic and played through the most recent trip through Innistrad in 2021 (and made the mistake of playing Werewolves), the original take on day and night might throw you for a bit of a loop. The main difference is that it counts both players’ spells, and especially considering one of the themes is build around playing at instant-speed, that makes it harder to transform your werewolves into their true selves. Werewolves also aren’t synced; if you play a werewolf it’ll always start on the “day” side. Finally, there are some werewolves from Eldritch Moon that you pay mana to transform, and they’re generally better.



Speaking of Eldritch Moon, this is the main pivot of the set, as the giant creatures are here with cast triggers and ways to make them cheaper by sacrificing a creature. However, this theme took one of the biggest hits in the transition to the remastered set, as there aren’t many good creatures to sacrifice (Exultant Cultist and Byway Courier are the main ones left) and almost half the non-rare Emerge creatures were cut as well (even the signpost Lashweed Lurker), so treat this more like Shadows over Innistrad than Eldritch Moon.



Hey, this kicker mechanic is on more cards than Collective Brutality! Obviously the flexibility of these cards is their main selling point, but when it’s mana you’re more likely to get the whole package, especially when it’s just Entwine on the commons.



This mechanic looks familiar! Unlike in Brother’s War, the card-merging DFC is actually designed for Limited a bit, but while Eldritch Moon had both Graf Rats and Midnight Scavengers at common, the remastered set upshifts the latter to uncommon. It’s an interesting choice which should limit the meld potential a lot (especially since Midnight Scavengers is playable even without the rats), but the cards being outside of a dedicated DFC slot (and being in all three packs for that matter) could make it happen more often.



This was supposed to be the big UB creature mechanic and become evergreen, but it instead became a relic of this block, and it’s not even used much in the remaster (only on four cards, all of them blue and only one not rare or mythic).


White/Blue: Flash Spirits

This is one of the most similar archetypes to its original incarnation. The only difference is that it leans even harder into the flash aspect with downshifts to Drogskol Shieldmate and Essence Flux. The one problem is that the counterspells in this block weren’t great, so I don’t know if that’s a great direction to lean even harder into. I think the deck is fine, but still in the middle of the pack.


Blue/Black: Self-Mill Zombies

Conversely, the direction of this archetype shifts a bit in the remastered set. There are fewer creatures that recur themselves (though Haunted Dead and Advanced Stitchwing at uncommon are strong), but instead Liliana's Elite is a strong downshift to keep you milling yourself. Overall I think this is a stronger direction since you don’t need as much redundancy on the recursive creatures, while a simple creature like Liliana's Elite works better in multiples.


Black/Red: Madness Vampires

This is a strange archetype, as a lot of the pieces changed but the overall deck feels mostly the same. On the enabler side, it acts more like Eldritch Moon, with the free enablers Ravenous Bloodseeker and Olivia's Dragoon at common. The major new payoffs are Gisa's Bidding and Insatiable Gorgers downshifted to common, but the trade-off is the big creature being Weirded Vampire instead of Twins of Maurer Estate, along with Incorrigible Youths being cut for a downshifted Stromkirk Occultist, so the creatures are more aggressive but smaller, particularly in terms of toughness (especially since Bloodmad Vampire is still a premiere common for the archetype). The deck might be a little stronger with the downshifts, but the major change is that getting Madness is easier but less of a tempo boost overall, so it’s mostly a wash.


Red/Green: Midrange Werewolves

This deck is hard to evaluate, since it isn’t changed just by the set list alterations, but the fundamental move away from a dedicated DFC slot. The deck is also helped by a ton of downshifts, including Conduit of Storms, Moonlight Hunt, and Deranged Whelp to common and Geier Reach Bandit and Scourge Wolf to uncommon. It feels like something’s missing, but I can’t pinpoint what—maybe Hinterland Logger instead of something like Quilled Wolf is strange, and the curve is weird overall. I think it’s a big improvement, but I don’t want to be the one who starts here.


Green/White: Equipment Humans

Delirium is mostly non-existent in this color pair, so instead the deck has to lean on equipment synergies like True-Faith Censer and Strength of Arms. However, a lot of the top end of the archetype has been trimmed like Avacynian Missionaries and Thalia's Lieutenant. There’s nothing in the base set that draws you here—but unlike other archetypes, this gets consistent help from the bonus sheet at common each week with Elder Cathar (plus Butcher's Cleaver at uncommon), Travel Preparations, Doomed Traveler, and Bonds of Faith. I’m still not sure it’s great, but it’s a lot better than it would have been without those original Innistrad cards.


White/Black: Wide Delirium Aggro

This deck lost a lot of its identity in the transition to the remastered set for some reason. On one side, white lost all of its Delirium commons like Moorland Drifter and Inquisitor's Ox, and while the enablers are better (notably the downshift of Bound By Moonsilver upgrading Choking Restraints) and Topplegeist is still good, there isn’t nearly as much density to build around. On the other side, while Anguished Unmaking is an obvious upgrade to Campaign of Vengeance in terms of raw power, the loss of both that and Behind the Scenes hurts the go-wide theme, along with other payoffs being cut (notably Unruly Mob and Pious Evangel) or upshifted (mainly Midnight Scavengers, making the common meld less common). I think the raw card quality is still there, but since you need higher-rarity cards to be in the pool you won’t always get the deck in your drafts.


Blue/Red: Spells

The headline of this archetype is that Thermo-Alchemist is up to uncommon like in Midnight Hunt, but it’s compensated for in other ways. The spells are biased towards efficiency and cantrips, and choices like picking Drag Under over Just the Wind and swapping the rarities of Incendiary Flow and Fiery Temper helps. The one problem is that other than Pyre Hound there aren’t any payoffs at common for the archetype. Obviously you can still go big with Rise from the Tides or Curious Homunculus, but I wouldn’t try this deck built just around the commons.


Black/Green: Turbo Delirium

What happened to this archetype? Upshifting Vessel of Nascency to uncommon shouldn’t kill an archetype (especially when Grapple with the Past is still common), but I think it’s a lot harder to get Delirium fast now, and the types aren’t nearly as balanced. In particular, Dead Weight has to pull a lot of weight on the enchantment side, since along with the Vessel upshift, other enablers like Autumnal Gloom and Crop Sigil were cut. There also aren’t as many sorceries that are playable (Murderous Compulsion is noticeably missing, though the downshift of Gisa's Bidding helps), and the easy ways to get land beyond self-mill like Fork in the Road and Warped Landscape are gone as well (though the downshift of Wild-Field Scarecrow helps a bit). The one tradeoff is that your threats are a lot better, with downshifts of Gnarlwood Dryad and Obsessive Skinner. The former is also relevant with Rabid Bite and Clear Shot, especially since Deathcap Cultivator is downshifted as well. Maybe it was too easy to get delirium with Vessel, but the archetype is overall a lot worse than triple-Shadows, and maybe worse than the full block as well.


Red/White: Hyper Aggro

This was always the sketchiest archetype in the main set, and the remaster tries to prioritize the cards that primarily fit here like Devilthorn Fox and Deranged Whelp at common and Village Messenger, Scourge Wolf, Town Gossipmonger, and even Lupine Prototype at uncommon. I think it might be better than it was in the main set, but that isn’t saying much, so I still wouldn’t prioritize this archetype.


Green/Blue: Investigate and/or Emerge Ramp

As I mentioned earlier, the Emerge subtheme of this archetype is mostly non-existent, down to the gold uncommon being Ongoing Investigation rather than Lashweed Lurker. Instead it’s going heavy on the clues, even with the double-downshift of Briarbridge Patrol that also works well with the big Emerge creatures (even if you don’t get the cast triggers). You also have a lot more removal than usual, particularly the powerful double-downshift of Imprisoned in the Moon. I think this is good, as long as there aren’t that many good fast decks, and it feels like those decks got hurt in the remastered set.


Other Important Cards:

The color fixing is better here, with Wild-Field Scarecrow downshifted to common and the Choked Estuary cycle of lands downshifted to uncommon to form a complete cycle alongside the enemy taplands, but it still isn’t great overall, especially since green’s land-fetching got nerfed. The removal is also a lot better, with downshifts to Incendiary Flow, Bound By Moonsilver, Imprisoned in the Moon, and Anguished Unmaking, the combo of bite cards with downshifted deathtouchers, and efficient options across the bonus sheets.



Shadows of the Past:

As I mentioned before, we have an interesting set of bonus sheets for this remastered set. For the previous archetype looks, I’ve mostly ignored the bonus sheet slot, but now I’m going to look at each one individually and how it changes the archetypes.


Creature Type Terror! (March 21-28):

The first bonus sheet focuses on all the tribal cards, which obviously improves those decks. Ghoulraiser is by far the most powerful common, and it works perfectly with what the Zombie deck wants to do in this set overall. At uncommon, the Human deck gets a pair of strong equipment with Avacyn's Collar and Butcher's Cleaver, and the former works well in a wide aggro deck as well. Haunted Fengraf is also a powerful effect for a land in most decks, and Traveler's Amulet is a good artifact for the Delirium decks.


Fatal Flashback! (March 28-April 4):

The second bonus sheet is the most important one, since it’s being used for the Arena Open that weekend. Unsurprisingly all the cards have Flashback, and it means they’re generally more generic cards (beyond the off-color Flashback cards of course). The flashy option is the self-mill package of Spider Spawning and Gnaw to the Bone, though notably there’s no way to go infinite, and it’s more of a blue/black card than a green/black card since Delirium doesn’t work well with the required number of creatures. Spells also unsurprisingly get a boost with Forbidden Alchemy, Faithless Looting, and Silent Departure at common and Mystic Retrieval at uncommon. The white aggro decks also get a lot of help with Feeling of Dread, Travel Preparations, Rally the Peasants, and Lingering Souls at uncommon. Finally, Faithless Looting is a great Madness enabler.


Morbid and Macabre! (April 4-11):

The third bonus sheet is full of death triggers and Morbid cards, but since that doesn’t align with Shadows over Innistrad much the cards are pretty scattered—cards like Murder of Crows and Hollowhenge Scavenger are just strong creatures, and fodder creatures like Doomed Traveler and Young Wolf are fine in their respective archetypes. The one thing I’m wondering is if Traitorous Blood is enough to spawn a new archetype with common sac outlets like Bloodflow Connoisseur and Stitcher's Apprentice, though that depends on the relative scarcity of each original rarity.


Abominable All-Stars! (April 11-18):

While the mythics are the splashy cards here, even the commons are good enough to warp the experience. First, the combination of Brimstone Volley and Tragic Slip means you have to keep track of Morbid, especially if you have a bomb you’re protecting. Mist Raven and Fiend Hunter are also a massive influx of power to the flicker cards in blue/white, especially since the latter uses the old wording, so Essence Fluxing it in response to the trigger permanently removes a creature. Avacyn's Pilgrim and Bonds of Faith are a noticeable power bump to Humans in general (though you should still play the former in any green deck even if you’re treating the white mana as colorless). Finally, Evolving Wilds is the most reliable way to get a land in the graveyard, so that’s a surprising improvement to the Delirium decks (and Blazing Torch is relevant there too).


Design Review:

This is an interesting design, but one where it feels like there’s a lot missing at first glance. The obvious reason at surface level is that the set is just smaller than previous remasters: ignoring basic lands, Amonkhet Remastered has 303 cards, Kaladesh Remastered has 287, and Shadows over Innistrad Remastered has 276. It’s more telling at common, where AKR has 108 commons, KLR has 104, and SIR has just 94. Obviously it’s a lot more comparable if you add in the individual bonus sheet for each week of SIR (each of which adds six to eight commons), but that’s still a piece of the original sets that’s missing.


Looking at the set as a whole, the rarity shifts wreak havoc with which cards were included, since each rarity needs to be roughly color-balanced overall. This is most clearly telling with red rare, as there are three downshifts to uncommon (Scourge Wolf, Stromkirk Occultist, and Geier Reach Bandit), and while each is very justified, it leaves the pool of red rares very thin (especially since Hanweir Battlements wasn’t counted as red for some reason, even though the Emerge cards were counted in their colors), meaning “intro pack rares” like Flameblade Angel and Assembled Alphas got called up. The gold distribution is also weird, as while the tribal aligned off-color cards (Drunau Corpse Trawler and the like) got picked by default, the enemy cards include three of the uncommon gold cards, a downshifted Anguished Unmaking, and Ongoing Investigation, leaving Lashweed Lurker in the dust. Finally, the choice of repeats is strange, as while some signature cards like Cryptbreaker and Thalia's Lieutenant were left out, over 50 cards in the main set and 16 cards on the bonus sheet (almost a quarter of the entire sheet) are “reprints” onto Arena, which feels like a lot.


Diving into specific cards, there are two glaring omissions. Open the Armory is a niche tutor, but it can be reprinted in a lot of places (heck, I could easily see it in Wilds of Eldraine) and overlapped some with the upshifted Ironclad Slayer. The bigger one is Behold the Beyond, as it showed up in multiple Pioneer decks at the Pro Tour. However, it’s easy to overlook (for instance, I didn’t include it in my design) and there are extenuating circumstances (*cough*the artist*cough*) that made it hard to swap in at the last minute, so I’d expect it to be fast-tracked for the next Explorer Anthology (or, as I’m guessing, a Pioneer Masters that will arrive in both paper and Arena next year). Other than those, a couple surprise omissions in my opinion are Engulf the Shore, Oath of Liliana, Silverfur Partisan, and Drownyard Temple.



Overall, I think this design was very interesting, especially since Wizards was able to go hog-wild on the rarity shifts since it (unfortunately) doesn’t affect paper Pauper. Wizards also confirmed this is the last set pre-production had been done on prior to Arena’s launch (as we assumed when assets were found for it by dataminers), so Battle for Zendikar isn’t necessarily coming soon—and since I’ve done a preliminary design of the commons/uncommons already (though admittedly without shifts), that’s going to be much harder to get right (as a reminder, triple-BFZ was a true four-color format where you couldn’t draft green, and the full format has to deal with six colors instead with the heavy colorless theme) and likely not worth the effort just for Bring to Light and Oath of Nissa. And as much as I’d like them to skip around and do something like Tarkir Remastered (or even just release Khans of Tarkir wholesale), my expectation is that we’ll get an Anthology or two this year, and then next year Explorer will evolve to Pioneer alongside Pioneer Masters (just like Classic did with Vintage Masters on MTGO), and then we can start pestering the Arena team to start putting Modern on the client (which is closer than you might expect, as between the constant power creep obsoleting classic cards, Jumpstart: Historic Horizons putting a lot of Modern Horizons 1 and 2 on Arena, and bonus sheets filling in staples like Chromatic Star, Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, and (Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer), the main gaps are fetchlands and free spells). As for me, I’ll be back with March of the Machines as the current storyline comes to a head.



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